Climate change has been a veritable point of conversation for the past many years but its implications and effects are making itself clear in our daily lives now more than ever. The corporations and organisations of the world have to take more responsibility when it comes their claims of sustainable developments as with each passing famine, storm, drought and cyclone the pressure on resources is only going to increase. The public health and climate change are impossibly linked and assessing the impact of rapidly deteriorating environ will show clear links of how the public health sector will be unable to cope in the future if things don’t improve.
From exposure to extreme weather or contagious diseases forest fires and cyclones, the environment is breaking under the pressure of the continuous demands that we are making.
The past two hundred years have seen an exploitation of the most disastrous kind. And now, we are seeing the effects it is having on human health. With rising temperatures and changed environment conditions it is more likely that we will be facing numerous such disasters in the future on a regular basic. The kind of irreversible strain this will create on the public health sector is almost unimaginable.in no way can one completely predict the complexity, constraints, demands, timings, limitations, and scope of these climate change induced events. In such a situation, it is instrumental that we come up with a plan for the public health sector in co-ordination with government agencies to be fully prepared for the future.
In this paper we will be discussing the public health challenges with relation to climate change and thinking of new policies amendments and approaches that will benefit the public health and make it stronger.
Table of Contents
Climate change and its impact on public health
Public Health Care in Australia
Most Vulnerable Groups of the Population
Measures to be taken by Public Health
Increasing greenhouse gas concentration in the earth’s atmosphere is one of the leading factors for climate change. The landslide of disasters that this is going to cause cannot be imagined. Greenhouse gases are produced because of the combustion of fossil fuels. This increases the heat in the lower atmosphere thus increasing the temperature of air and water. This increase in the level of rainfall and also makes us vulnerable to extreme weather conditions like cyclones, floods, heat waves, droughts and bushfires.
With each passing year we are only realizing the importance of strong governance that takes care of its public and enhance the government agencies meant to serve its people (Morris, 2010). When it comes to public health, the long list of out-dated policies and a framework that puts a lot of pressure on its professionals, combating the long-term effects of climate change on the general populations all across the world is not going to be easy. In this assignment we are going to assess the impact and the scope of creating changes in the public health that will help the professionals in dealing with the future situations in a better way
The government funded health care sector of Australia is designed to ensure subsidised treatment and care for citizens all across the country. Like any other government supported agency, the public health sector has its limitations and with added pre-existing conditions like poverty, lack of access to health facilities obesity, chronic illnesses discrimination etc, many are not able to improve their health conditions efficiently. If one were to forget about these societal factors, the impending doom of the environmental factors present an even greater threat to the public health system. Climate change is regarded as the biggest threat to public health in the coming years.
Climate change continues to affect human lives all over the world and the dangers of the variability in weather conditions is presenting more challenges than ever before. If countries are not able to reduce the carbon emissions and overall exploitation of natural resources then they will not be able to deal with its implication on public health. The health impacts of climate change definitely affect poorer nations more intensely than the others. Even in countries that are developed the strata’s that will be affected the most are the poor ones as they will not have the same access as the more privileged ones.
In the past fifty years or so the average temperature in Australia has increased. Because of this the rush of heatwaves is on a continual rise and results in more deaths in the country than any other disaster. With the increasing altercations of climate change, the frequency of these heat waves is expected to increase (Jia et al., 2020). This has in turn led to increased admissions to hospitals of cases related to dehydration, heat exhaustion, heatstroke and the further worsening of pre-existing heart conditions.
Children, elderly and worker who work outdoors are most prone to the fatal effects of a heat wave. The workers who are at most risk are farmers construction site employees, and those working in emergency sectors. Extremely increased temperatures also effect productivity and cause economic damage.
Another effect of the ever-increasing temperatures in Australia are the bushfires. The never-ending heat waves and drastically reducing rainfall imposes a great risk on the forest covers of the entire country and we have seen the endless effects over the last few years. The loss to flora and fauna is so huge that it cannot even be comprehended (Schwerdtle et al., 2018). Fighting the effects of the destructive greenhouse gas omission is only possible through afforestation. But the rate at which the bushfires are wiping out kilometres of forest covers; the effects could be detrimental for the environment and its people.
With this it also brings the endless health risk to the population. Burns and injuries are the most common but the effects of dehydration and heat exhaustion is undeniable. It is also possible that the smoke could be carried for thousands of kilometres further endangering the health of so many communities. One of the biggest risks is to the lungs and nervous systems because of the inhalation of smoke.
If any of the public hospitals are destroyed because of damage to property, thousands would not get the medical assistance they need. For example in the Black Saturday Bushfires of 2009, 173 people died and almost 500 people were taken to hospitals in the first 72 hours since the bushfires happened. These bush fires go on for days causing irreversible damage to people and property. The effect it can have on the mental health of people is something that cannot be measured even now.
It is predicted that in the coming years Australia will be severely affected with increased number of floods and storms because of the increased frequency and intensity of rainfall at erratic levels. People affected by floods experience a decline in overall health due to various physical factors (Watts et al., 2019). The irregular rainfalls cause a lot of damage and also lead to rise in sea levels. The frequency of floods and cyclone sin Australia is only expected to rise.
It affects the public health system wherein people come in with injuries, hypothermia, etc. The number of people who drown or are directly injured is very high. The impact on infrastructure is also irreversible and extremely harmful if it ruins a hospital or a public health care set up. The stagnant water is a breeding ground for more germs and bacterial diseases. The contaminated water ruins the overall health and increases the risk, lack of clean drinking water, lack of food supplies and improper sewage facilities can put individuals at an even greater risk. Another detrimental factor is the damp grounds and increased mould that may affect the respiratory tracts of already asthmatic patients and further aggravate numerous other allergies.
Similar to floods and storms cyclones occurrences are predicted to rise in the coming years. Australia has already seen one its worst natural disaster, the tropical cyclone Yasi in February 2011 that saw mass evacuations an irreparable damage to public health and property (Vardoulakis et al., 2020). With the increasing rise in climate change government agencies and public health care agents have to be extremely alert to the onslaught of cyclones.
Drowning leading to loss of life, injuries, hypothermia, wound infections, lack of access to health care, outbreak of diarrhoeal diseases, increased risk of infection to the respiratory systems, carriers of diseases and contagious diseases are some of the things that put an insurmountable amount of stress on the health care system.
Disruptions to the routine of medical care systems, and increasing number of natural disasters make the process extremely difficult wherein they cannot provide adequate medical help to patients (McIver et al., 2016). If the cyclones affect their medicine and utilities reserve, it puts an added pressure on them. This can further worsen the state of patients with pre-existing conditions who need regular care for their survival
One of the biggest harms of increasing climate change is the potential of spread of infectious diseases that will create a landslide of repercussions and effects that the public health care system in Australia will be incapable of managing simply because of its unregulated extent. Infectious diseases are impossible to track even with a stellar system in place. An already pressurized framework will not be able to deal with the blows.
From bacterial gastroenteritis to increased growth of pathogens, the after effects cannot even be predicted. The transmission of all these diseases will affect the population of the entire country at one point or another (Smith & Fazil, 2019). Increased rainfall and temperatures have created erratic patterns that will change the pattern of mosquito borne diseases. Increasing temperature have a direct co relation with food borne diseases too. The effect this will have on infrastructure and water and sewage systems does not look promising for any community and everybody will be affected.
Apart from the physical manifestations of pain and distress, the natural disasters due to climate change can cause a large amount of mental stress and degradation of mental heath in people (McIver et al., 2016). Disasters like cyclones floods, storms, that cause displacement and evacuation can have an irreversible impact on the people who experience them the past events have show how the population has been affected by post traumatic stress disorder due to these life changing events.
Research has shown that people who are have witnessed and experienced a natural disaster are more vulnerable to anxiety, depressions and PTSD. Going out of business displacement losing homes shortage of food and water, unhygienic living conditions, lack of access to medical health, unemployment, disruption of normal life, destroyed sense of community loss of loved ones, trauma , illness, lack of services and no education can make communities extremely vulnerable to mental health problems.
One of the most essential markers of a well-developed country is its superior health care system that provides adequate and good attention to all its citizens. The Australian healthcare system has private and public sectors and they are extremely accessible and freely provide facilities to all the citizens (Anderson et al., 2019). Compared to other countries, what differentiates the healthcare system in Australia is the guarantee that it will be provided to all. The affordability and convenience, irrespective of the income of the individual is how Australia stands apart with its world class facilities. Another remarkable achievement of the Australian healthcare system is the extremely low rate of deaths in medical facilities provided by the public health.
All these attributes make the public health in Australia extremely inclusive and beneficial for all its citizens. This shows how capable and attentive they are to the needs of their citizens (Song et al., 2017). The overall public health care system in Australia is extremely developed where the average life expectancy of the population is significantly higher than the rest of the world. This sign of great health sets a very good precedent for life and community health in the country.
This fact alone does not prevent it from myriad of issues and challenges that the coming times present. Cancer and heart diseases are one of the leading health problems on the country and continue to affect a lot of people (Kwon, 2020). The ageing population and increasing rates of asthma are also major factors that lead to a declining health problem. One in every ten Australians has an asthma problem. Regarding the age problem even if all the elderly is healthy, a population that is only growing older means that the coming years will have more and more illnesses (Austin et al., 2018). This will add more strain to an already tenuous time that has been predicted for the healthcare sector.
One of the biggest drawbacks of an extremely laudable health care systems can be the lack of access and delay in appointments for masses. Because of the number of people coming in even in the daily routine of public health a lot of people are forever stuck in longest waiting lists and never get access to medical care. Primary care physicians and overall delegation needs more attention as the population cannot always handle the incoming patients and all their ailments efficiently and in an orderly manner.
Even under normal circumstances the supply of health workforce is extremely uneven and irregular. Eventually this leads to added pressure on the existing workers as they are not able to cope with the number of patients. When this happens, there is full probability of neglect and improper care even though they had been promised different. This shows that the healthcare management needs to distribute its workforce and resources in a better manner so as to ensure the smooth functioning in the lives of health care professionals.
The economic analysis of the healthcare sector shows that all taxpayers bear the expenses of the government funded health care system. The investment in the health of the country as apart of the gross domestic product has been on the rise for the past decade. It shows that for every Australian citizen, $5000 are spent annually. The government funs almost 70 percent of Australia’s total expenditure on public health care facilities (Casadevall, 2020). While many may argue that not everyone requires healthcare, the expenses are paid for from everybody’s income. As the climate state continues to get worse, the number diseases will increase, the pressure on health care systems will increase which in turn will imply that the government spending on public health will also have to increase.
When it comes to the analysis of the parts of population that are most affected by a disaster, we can conclude that there are certain groups that are obviously more affected that the rest of the population.
Children are the most vulnerable part of a population as they do not have the autonomy or the cognitive ability to deal with the aftermath of a disaster. In the case of unforeseen events, they will be the ones most dramatically affected and will rely on rehabilitation services and public health (Galway et al., 2016). From a biological point of view, they are also much weaker and have weaker immune systems that will make them more vulnerable to a plethora of diseases. They are also more prone to get dehydration and be fatigued by heat stress. In case of a disaster, they will need the maximum amount of support, care and attention.
Similarly, the elderly also requires a lot more attention from the public health in case of any event. Their pre-existing conditions and weakening bodies make them more susceptible to a variety of disease and can cause further complications. This can cause some major strain for the public health care system.
Pregnant women are another part of the population that are put in a precarious position in the event of a disaster. They are more susceptible to increased risk of heat stress during heat waves and this may lead to the birth of underweight babies or more physical complications during childbirth as increasing temperatures adversely affect the mother’s health.
Another part of the population, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people of Australia are also at a higher risk because they experience a greater mortality rate and poorer health under normal conditions due to presence of underlying chronic illnesses. Even populations from villages and remote areas that don’t have access to health care are more susceptible to greater problems in case of a disaster due to their geographical limitations.
Despite the brilliance and efficiency of the existing framework there are certain measure that need to be taken in order to make sure that the future does not prove to be extremely fatal for the Australian populace in times of extreme climate change (Li, 2017).
The government needs to put together an ecologically conscious public health care system in place that also ensures greater equality in the provision of services.
There have to be policies that create strategic environment and health conscious decisions to ensure the safety of citizens. While doing so they have to ensure the highest attainable standards for populations (Sazvar et al., 2018). They need to come up with a hazard focused environmental health approach.
For this they need to make proper assessments of potential health effects due to climate change and the groups that will be most susceptible to them. This comprehensive analysis will give clear idea about what might actually potentially endanger the said groups in case of a disaster and how the loss can be prevented.
The data has to view with regard to a wider, social, behavioural and philosophical context. The government has to take drastic steps to reduce the effects of greenhouse gas concentration so that the condition does not worsen as that will increase the heat in the lower atmosphere and the result of which will be disastrous for everyone (Austin et al., 2019).
Decreased emissions of fossil fuels and more sustainable model for development should be made compulsory for all corporations so that they can help in the mitigation of the worsening effects of climate change.
Burning of fossil fuels has to be phased out and energy costs and reliability of resources have to analysed (Song et al., 2017). Radical cuts in CO2 emissions should be made mandatory so that the increasing temperatures do not lead to topping point for catastrophic events.
Because health care workers are going to be under more strain than ever before, while we have some time left, they must take it up to themselves and advocate for more strict protocols to be opted to ensure that the climate is not worsened at such a rapid rate. They must advocate for health at all levels of society and hold the government responsible for its concerns and duties towards overall environmental impact.
Decarbonising the electricity sector would be an extremely important step for the Australian government. Australia could also manage its export emissions by taking into consideration the impact it has on the over all environment. Constant checks and revision of approval limits of mining of coal and gas should also be reviewed with regard to what’s best for the environment.
The creation of awareness and accountability of big corporation regarding the impact they have has to be brought under scrutiny (Watts et al., 2018). Companies cannot be assessed just by their levels of profit anymore. We must find and utilise renewable sources of energy and make our food production practices more sustainable.
The government must build strategies that are more humanitarian and environmentally conscious in nature so as to mitigate the effects of harmful emissions. At the rate we are going, it is going to be an impossible task to manage the population and the diseases aftermath of a disaster. How industries are subsidised and creation of smart cities to reduce carbon footprint has to be taken very seriously.
Disease surveillance, early warning system and strengthening of our health is of crucial importance in these times. There should be proper planning that takes into consideration the geography, the income and the accessibility of parts of the populations beforehand.
The reduction of emission of greenhouse gases is not enough if our objective is to reduce the strain on public health substantially, then we must understand the implications of our daily actions. From opting for a more active lifestyle and choosing to turn off the air conditioner, how we live and how it affects both public health and the environment is astounding.
By choosing a more active lifestyle we will be improving our cardio vascular health thus making us less prone to health problems. By switching off the ac we will be reducing the carbon foot print. Increased use of public transport will reduce the air pollution in cities thus making our lungs cleaner and stronger. And this will also improve the overall quality of life everywhere.
Responsible consumption and production should become a lifestyle choice, this will reduce the burden on our ecosystem our government and the public health drastically. We must mitigate and adapt to the changing times. While we have time, the population and the health care worker should take it upon themselves to lead by example and adapt and mitigate to create a much safer future.
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